Paris: City of Light

Mme. de Stäel's Salon of the Revolution: A Forum For The Spread Of Liberal Ideas


Parisian Salons
 ~Salons of   Enlightenment
 ~Madame de   Stäel         
~Salons of the   Restoration
 ~The Salons of   Victor Hugo

Influence of Printed Materials
 ~Pre-Revolutionary   Timeline
 ~Post-Revolutionary   Timeline


Defining the Parisians
 ~Parisians Viewed   by Foreigners
 ~Parisians   Viewed by   Themselves
 ~Paris Fashion




Here in the salon of Mme. de Stäel, Jean Jacques Rousseau's doctrines with his emphasis on the rights of the individuals were discussed and admired. In 1788, at the young age of twenty, Mme. de S published her first book, Letters on the Character and Writings of J.J. Rousseau, revealing her high regard for Rousseau and her developed skill as a writer. Regardless of her love and passion for liberty, she still went on striving to salvage the remains of the old régime as she "hated to part with the ceremonial and glitter of her palmy days" (Watson, 107).

In Sept 1790, Mme. de Stäel's father took his final fall from power within the National Assembly. He was considered "a symbol of reform within the government," calling for a limited constitutional monarchy like that of Great Britain (Wright, 45). Mme. de S continued on with her salon. Her situation allowed her to witness all the secret movements that were working to "agitate the very foundations of civil order in France" (Child, 27).

Being the incredibly politically minded woman that Mme. de Stäel was, she bravely:

  • observed the violent removal of the king to Paris on Oct. 6th , 1790
  • attended the first meeting of the National Convention listening to the words of Honoré Gabriel Riquetti Mirabeau and Antoine Pierre Joseph Marie Barnave
  • processed to Nôtre Dame to hear Louis XIV "swear to a constitution that virtually dethroned him"(Child, 28)
  • became intimate friends with various popular leaders of the Revolution such as Charles Maurice de Talleyrand and Louis de Narbonne
  • offered shelter at her home to those popular leaders who needed to hide from the police as her dwelling would unlikely be searched since her husband was a foreign ambassador

Gossip began to spring up about her private life and her intimacy with Talleyrand and Narbonne. There was a claim that Mme. de S once visited Narbonne's camp, dressed in male attire! Young, handsome, and immoral Narbonne was a widower and a spirited supporter of the Revolution, although a member of the army. He could often be seen visiting Mme. de S at her salon, where they both talked of democracy but were still royalists at heart. Mme. de Stäel herself stood for the monarchy as long as it lasted, but when it fell, she did not believe it should be restored.

Thrilled by the excitement of life in Paris and her need to be in a capital where she could remain moving, she refused to accompany her family to their château in Coppet, Switzerland. She disliked its "infernal quietude" (Watson, 109). However, when the Tuileries was stormed and the king and queen were seized, she realized it was time to leave her beloved Paris. On August 10th, 1792, after risking her life to save any remaining friends, she escaped to Switzerland. Much as she hated the quietude of Coppet, it was in her best interest to be there and not in Paris during the Reign of Terror, when the guillotine was having its daily victims.


Figure 1.7 The facade of Mme. de Stäel's Château de Coppet in Switzerland


Madame de Stäel's Salon of the Directoire

In April 1795, two months after her husband's arrival, Mme. de Stäel returned to Paris with her new lover, Benjamin Constant, who would later become known as a writer and statesman. Back in her dear capital, Mme. de S worked to bring about a reconciliation between the conflicting parties which had arisen within the Directoire. Her salon served as a "resort for all the restless politicians of the day and she was once denounced to the Convention as a person dangerous to the state" (Child, 35). Every ten days she hosted a dinner inviting people of all varying opinions and on particular days she "entertained separately the leaders of the various cliques" (Watson, 115).

During all her years of deep political involvement, it should be noted that Mme. de S never stopped writing. Whether her works were directed towards questions of government and administration or just an imaginative piece of fiction, Mme. de S never let her pen lie idle. She was known as "an authoress who always wrote with the blood of her heart" (Hall, 131). Rarely stopping to review what she wrote, she was continuously recording down on paper how she felt and was said to have written "in all places and at all times" (Hall, 131). Her remarkable book, De la Littérature in Coppet, which reviewed the relation of society to literature and of literature to society from the time of Homer to the year 1789, was published in 1798. De la Littérature was considered the first serious effort to introduce France to the underlying characteristics of German and English literature. Upon completion of the book, Mme. de S returned to Paris on November 9th, 1799, "the very day that placed the destiny of France in the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte" (Child, 39).


Click here to learn about the meeting of Mme. de Stäel and Napoleon and Napoleon's efforts to destroy her democratic ambitions in her writing and salons.


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